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Your lifestyle and your fertility: What you should know, do, and stop

Your lifestyle and your fertility: What you should know, do, and stop

5 min read

This article was last updated on Friday, January 29, 2021.

There's no magic bullet when it comes to fertility. After all, every body is different. There are, however, some changes you can consider to prepare yourself if you're planning to get pregnant. Read on — we're going to break down the what and the why of all of them for you.

Use glass instead of plastic for food and beverage storage

You might have heard about water bottles and other containers going BPA-free and wondered what that means. There are artificial chemicals called endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) in everyday items, including plastic bottles and even menstrual products. The main EDCs to look out for are bisphenol A (BPA), parabens, pesticides, phthalates, and sulfates. These chemicals mimic the hormones your body produces and can cause hormone changes. There's evidence that these changes adversely affect ovulation, pregnancy outcomes, and are possibly linked to polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), uterine fibroids, and endometriosis.

Since reducing your EDC exposure to zero is virtually impossible, Dr. Sharon Briggs, PhD, Modern Fertility's head of Clinical Product Development, explains that "experts in the space recommend a few steps to reduce your exposure such as not microwaving food in plastics and buying or storing foods in glass when possible."

Take prenatal vitamins with folate

Folate, a vitamin (B9), is found in foods such as leafy greens, liver, asparagus, brussels sprouts, and eggs. It's also available in prenatal vitamins. Folate plays a role in preventing birth defects, particularly those of the neural tube (such as spina bifida and anencephaly), and the American College of Obstetrics and Gynecologists (ACOG) recommends 400 mcg per day of supplemental folate at least one month before conceiving. This gives your body enough time to build up the nutrients it needs for a healthy pregnancy.

Low levels of folate have been associated with a higher risk of early miscarriage, according to one study of Swedish women by researchers at the Karolinska Institute in Sweden and at the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The study compared 468 women who had an early miscarriage (between six and twelve weeks gestation) to 921 women who were six to twelve weeks pregnant, asking them to provide information about reproductive and health histories, as well as blood samples to assess folate levels and smoking status. Ultimately, a folate deficiency was linked to a 50% increase in one's risk of early miscarriage.

While people get pregnant at all sizes, weight and body-fat percentage can impact conception. A low body-fat percentage can make the hypothalamus (a vital part of the brain) sluggish and lead to irregular or absent periods. A high body-fat percentage can increase estrogen levels, which also interferes with your cycle.

In general, while it's natural to lose or gain weight over time (gaining 1-2 lbs per year is average), preventing future weight gain makes a difference in fertility. That said, your doctor will likely have specific recs for you.

Avoid or quit smoking (a good move for fertility no matter when you do it)

Quitting smoking is hard, but quitting at any point is beneficial to your health and your fertility. The chemicals in cigarette smoke (nicotine, cyanide, and carbon monoxide) can speed up the loss of eggs — and once those eggs are gone, there's no replacing them (we're born with all the eggs we'll ever have). These same chemicals negatively impact the quality of your eggs as well as the function of your ovaries and can result in earlier menopause. Smoking has negative effects on sperm as well — decreased quality, decreased ability to move, the inability to fertilize eggs, and an abnormal shape.

Once one stops smoking, though, fertility improves, so don't hesitate to seek out support if you need help quitting. (You can find resources here.)

Get tested/treated for STIs

Sexually transmitted infections (STIs) are super common, and many people have them and don't know it. So, while you're planning ahead for your fertility, make sure that includes STI testing. When chlamydia and gonorrhea (the two most commonly reported notifiable diseases in the United States) go untreated, they can lead to pelvic inflammatory disease (PID), an infection of the uterus, fallopian tubes, ovaries, and cervix. PID can result in damage to the fallopian tubes, which is the cause of 30% of infertility cases among people with ovaries.

Keep in mind that some STIs, like HPV and herpes, have no symptoms, which makes it extra important that you (and your partner) get regularly tested for them. And if you do test positive for any STIs, you can get treated and reduce the chances of issues down the line.

Understand insulin resistance (and talk to your doctor if needed)

Insulin resistance is exactly what it sounds like: your body's cells don't respond to processing insulin, which is a hormone produced by the pancreas that helps control the amount of glucose (sugar) in your blood. Insulin resistance can not only trigger excess androgen production from your ovaries, but also block ovarian follicle development and ovulation, and interfere with luteinizing hormone (LH) production from your pituitary gland. People with polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) are at a higher risk for insulin resistance — an estimated 70% of people with PCOS have it — but PCOS doesn't necessarily cause insulin resistance.

If you have irregular periods or if your period has disappeared altogether, talk to your doctor. Insulin resistance can be treated through medicine, exercise, and nutrition.

Stress is not your friend

There are a lot of good reasons to decrease your stress levels, and here's another one: Stress might have a negative impact on your fertility. While the research in this area is mixed (and the topic itself is hard to study), several studies (here, here, here, here, and here) point to a connection between stress and fertility issues.

It's a double-edged sword — thinking about fertility can be stressful, and yet many experts recommend avoiding stress when you're pregnant or trying to get pregnant. Managing stress on your own is hard, so don't hesitate to reach out for help — especially if you feel like your stress is inhibiting your daily life or affecting your physical health (panic attacks, insomnia, heart palpitations, etc.).

About that morning coffee and those after-work drinks...

The Mayo Clinic recommends limiting your caffeine consumption to 1-2 cups of caffeine a day. In terms of alcohol, though, many studies show that having 1-2 drinks a day won't adversely affect your chances of conceiving — while some show that this level of moderate drinking can be harmful. That said, no amount of alcohol during pregnancy has been shown to be safe. The bottom line? Be intentional about your caffeine and alcohol consumption and find what works best for you.

Here's what we know for sure: Getting your hormones tested with Modern Fertility is a proactive thing you can do now for your reproductive health. Knowing where your fertility hormone levels are will help you make decisions about having kids before you actually start trying, and feeling empowered is a lifestyle change we can really get behind.

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Chanel Dubofsky

Chanel's writing has appeared in Cosmo, Rewire, Lilith, HelloFlo, & Extra Crispy. She has an MFA in Fiction from Vermont College of Fine Arts & lives in New York. Follow her @chaneldubofsky.

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